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November 30th, 2005 Karla Starr | Featured Stories
 

Office Party

Designers Tony Secolo and Kelly Coller organize a retail revolution.

     
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Back in August, an office-supply store opened on Northeast Alberta Street. Big stinking deal, right? But Office—the brainchild of husband-and-wife designers Tony Secolo and Kelly Coller—is well on its way to becoming a bona fide big deal.

Retro style reigns supreme in the couple's cool, concrete-floored space, with its blend of vintage and contemporary work objects (the shop features an eye-catching mix of Boeing-surplus metallic fixtures, filing cabinets and scores of contemporary messenger bags and bright design books), but its owners are banking on the future of Portland as a design hub. The store doubles as an art gallery, a space to host American Institute of Graphic Arts get-togethers, and a love letter to Portland's new and future generations of design junkies.

Until last year, the couple called Seattle home, where Portland-born Secolo worked for Getty Images, and Coller for NBBJ Branding and Design. But they'd long been frequenting, even courting, Portland, where major design-heavy businesses like Wieden & Kennedy and ZIBA have built the foundation for a host of small, independent design firms such as Hub Collective and UNKL Brand (both founded by ex-Nike designers). The atmosphere has also led to sleek, design-fueled retail spaces like downtown's Canoe and the Pearl District's Intelligent Design.

"We used to take trips down [to Portland] all the time for inspiration," Coller says. "Art, design and food are all thriving here—that's what's needed for the creative culture to want to live anywhere."

What sealed the deal for the pair was a recent party at Intelligent Design. "Looking around, I couldn't tell what city I was in," Secolo says, estimating that at least one-third of the partygoers were recent international transplants who were lured to Portland for its design culture. "It's not the Portland I grew up in."

Coller and Secolo wanted to open a one-stop design shop, a place like Seattle's Peter Miller or New York's Jack Spade, where utilitarian work supplies commingle with beauty. But what sets Office apart is the couple's active interest in building access to Portland's design community itself. Professionals are encouraged to glean contacts in design-related specialties like architecture or copywriting from a series of business card-stuffed notebooks that line a row of shelves on Office's back wall. Next year they're launching a series of free design education classes, ranging from "Branding Yourself" to "Designing Innovative Reports."

Described in The New York Times this month as the place Dilbert would shop if he read Wallpaper, Office might seem like a store by and for design geeks. But you don't need an art degree to realize that its useful merchandise, like a messenger bag with built-in solar panel that can recharge laptops, just looks damn cool. And while the "creative culture" is largely responsible for their sales so far, which are nearly four times their projections, the other half of their customers are "regular" Portlanders, all those aesthetically astute people who understand the value in being surrounded by elegance, even if it does take the form of a tape dispenser.


Office, 2204 NE Alberta St., 282-7200. Office's art gallery currently houses an exhibit curated by the Wurst Gallery's Jason Sturgill (who also works for Dark Horse Comics). The collection of portraits is titled, appropriately enough, "Employee of the Month."
 
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